Maison Dieu

Dover’s Maison Dieu is a historic building that has served many purposes over the centuries. It was founded 800 years ago as a medieval hospital, and later became a Victorian Town and Concert Hall. But did you know that for 300 years, it was also a vital supply base for the Royal Navy?

Heritage Open Days 2023 montage

Heritage Open Days (Saturday 9 September)

From the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Trafalgar, the Maison Dieu provided food, drink, and other essentials to the ships that defended Britain’s shores. The food and drink were called “victuals”, and the person in charge of them was the Agent Victualler, who lived in the nearby Maison Dieu House.

The Maison Dieu was a busy place, with hundreds of workers making ship’s biscuits, brewing beer, salting meat, and making barrels. It was also home to rats, which were a constant nuisance.

The Maison Dieu is currently closed for a £10.5m reawakening funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, but you can still learn more about its naval history at a free event on Saturday 9 September. The event is part of Heritage Open Days, and will take place at Maison Dieu House, which is now the offices of Dover Town Council.

You can book your free visit to Maison Dieu House via Eventbrite. There will be fun activities for all ages, such as making your own ship’s biscuit and playing “splat the rat”. You can also meet an actor dressed as Michael Russell, who was the Agent Victualler and the Mayor of Dover in the 1770s. His portrait by George Romney, who also painted Emma Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s lover, will be on display.

You can also visit St Edmund’s Chapel, which was once part of the Maison Dieu. It is believed to be the only chapel still standing that was consecrated by an English saint (St Richard) to honour another English saint (St Edmund). St Richard died at the Maison Dieu shortly after consecrating the chapel in 1253.

Volunteer researchers from the Maison Dieu and the Dover Greeters will be there to tell you more about the Maison Dieu’s role as a victualling yard, and the history of St Edmund’s Chapel.

Martin Crowther, community engagement officer at the Maison Dieu, said: “We’re grateful to Dover Town Council for hosting us and giving us a chance to explore the links between these two historic buildings in Dover town centre.

“For centuries, Dover provided ships and men to fight for King and country as a founding member of the ancient Confederation of the Cinque Ports, and then kept the fleet supplied for over 300 years as one of five victualling yards serving the Royal Navy.”

By Ed

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